What is Digital Marketing?

Digital marketing is a term that is often used very loosely. Broadly speaking, digital marketing can be any marketing that directly or indirectly involves digital technologies. More often it refers to marketing that takes unique advantage of advancing technologies and information systems. The most prevalent and notable being the Internet. It can also alternatively be used to exclusively describe those marketing activities which occur on the Internet.

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In the episode “What is Digital Marketing and How Can it Help a Small Business?” we explain digital marketing and its components. Learn how strategies are constantly changing and how small businesses can take advantage of digital marketing.

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The Semantics of the Definition of Digital Marketing

Often digital marketing is used to describe the set of marketing that occurs on the Internet like website design and development, email marketing, and search engine optimization (SEO). Semantically, this group of activities could most accurately be described as Internet marketing. Ironically that phrase is the least used in common parlance today.

What About Online and Internet Marketing?

Another somewhat common way to describe marketing activities that occur on the Internet is by calling them online marketing. Online originally was a telecommunications term and referred to the idea that a piece of equipment was actively connected to a larger system.

The word online now has been generalized and basically always refers to the Internet as that larger system. It’s basically now synonymous with being on the Internet. The phrase online marketing is also more popular than Internet marketing, but they are both identical and can be used interchangeably without any confusion.

The Popularity of Digital Marketing

Digital marketing is now the most popular way to describe both the semantically correct version of digital marketing and what might be most properly called Internet marketing. Interestingly enough this is a relatively recent trend. We can see using Google Book Ngram that all the way until at least 2008 usage of both Internet marketing and online marketing far exceeded digital marketing in literature.

Graph courtesy of Google Books Ngram Viewer

Then if you look at Google Trends data from 2005 to 2018, you’ll see what’s happened more recently. First, note that the relative prevalence of each digital marketing variant matches between Google Trends and Google Book Ngram for the time period they share from 2005 to 2008. Then with the more recent data from Google Trends, you can see that in mid-2010s there was a shift in searches. The phrase digital marketing, which had been climbing since 2006, overtakes both Internet marketing (in 2013) and online marketing (in 2014). By 2016 and 2017, it had become the clear favorite of the three in terms of search popularity.

Searches for Digital Marketing, Online Marketing, and Internet Marketing from 2005 to 2018
Graph based on data from Google Trends

What is Digital Marketing?

First, we’ll talk about the subset of digital marketing that is also online marketing. This includes all of the aspects of marketing that occur on the Internet. Here are just a few of the ever-growing number of digital marketing fields:

Website Design & Development

On the top of the list is an often overlooked aspect of digital marketing: website design and development. Before you can advertise your business on the Internet, you need an online presence to serve as your foundation for other digital marketing efforts. Your website is that online presence. Some business owners try to get by with only a social media page or a DIY site like kapokmarketing.wordpress.com.

Would you trust us if that was our real website? Even if you do, according to Search Engine Land many other people don’t. They report that 30% of customers won’t even consider a business that doesn’t have a website and 46% say a website is the biggest determinant in trusting a company. Given that, you could be losing 1/3 to 1/2 of potential customers by skipping this step of digital marketing.

Content Marketing

Another big part of digital marketing for many businesses is content marketing. Content marketing is all about creating and sharing content to educate and entice your potential customers. And it actually can be part of any marketing effort. It is not just for digital marketing, and often when executed well it includes both digital and traditional or offline components.

Your content can be in the form of text, pictures, illustrations, or videos. It’s all part of content marketing. You can share the content on your blog, in your newsletters, in a book you publish, in a mailer, or anywhere else your prospective clients might interact with it. Make sure you share your content on social media and try to find complementary partners who can also help you get the word out about your content.

Search Engine Marketing

Marketing on search engines can fall into two categories. The first is search engine optimization (SEO). It is the set of activities you can do to get the website for your business to appear higher in the organic results on the search engine results page (SERP). SEO can get complicated quickly, but it really boils down to a combination of three main things:

  1. An SEO friendly website that is secure, easy to use, and navigate.
  2. Having good, and hopefully great, content on that website.
  3. Finding opportunities to get other websites to link to the content on your website.

The other component of search engine marketing is paid search advertising, which involves creating an ad and picking a set of criteria for when you want your ad to appear on Google or another search engine. The criteria usually involve at least a set of keywords and some geographic bounds. For example, you might want your ad to appear when someone searches for “Italian restaurant” in Saint Petersburg, FL.

Display Advertising

Like with paid search advertising, display advertising involves paying to have your advertisement appear online. Except with display advertising, your ad will be displayed on other websites or apps and not on the SERPs. Some of the biggest places that feature these sorts of ads are Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube. But by using a third-party reseller of ads, you can reach millions of other smaller sites. For example, Google Ads is a platform with over two million websites and 650,000 apps.

Other Forms of Digital Marketing

As we mentioned earlier, there are other forms of digital marketing that are not online. These include methods that take advantage of other digital devices or digital media, but don’t necessarily involve the Internet. One widespread example you’ve probably seen is text message marketing which involves sending SMS or MMS messages to your customers. It also includes methods that incorporate marketing through video games and ereaders.

What is Not Digital Marketing?

Anything that is offline or doesn’t involve a digital device is definitely not digital marketing. For example, magazine ads, direct-mail pieces, and sign spinners are all not digital marketing. Many other aspects of traditional advertising, however, are starting to fall into a grey area.

Broadcast Television

Televisions are now digital devices that operate on digital signals and receive digital transmissions. Yet, conventional television advertisements found on over-the-air (OTA), cable, and satellite television are not generally considered part of digital marketing. This is starting to change with the rise of advertisements on video platforms like YouTube and streaming services like Hulu. No one would dispute that YouTube ads fall squarely within digital marketing. Plus providers like DirectTV and Sling TV are starting to offer online streaming of the exact same channels you’d normally get via your cable provider. So it’s starting to get really murky where the line is between digital and traditional in terms of video advertising.

Direct Mail Marketing & Other Print Media Advertising

Direct mail campaigns are still very popular and successful for many businesses. Since it’s delivered on printed material, it’s non-digital in its presentation and method of delivery. However, new technologies have made these campaigns much more targeted and cheaper to print. This is especially true for small on-demand mailers.

Likewise, other print media is still around in the form of billboards, magazines, and newspapers. Many of these areas also have digital equivalents that have popped into existence that now coexist with their traditional counterparts. Billboards can now be digital and show alternating ads, or even video. Magazines and newspapers are now online and available for download on ereaders or mobile phone apps, and you can purchase display advertising to appear in these digital offerings.

Why Digital Marketing is Important

Forbes reports that Forrester predicts digital marketing – in the form of email marketing plus social media, online video, paid search and display advertising – will account for 46% of all advertising by 2021. That prediction doesn’t even appear to include all digital marketing expenses. For example, it appears to exclude the cost of website design and development, which is really the foundation of online marketing.

The report also doesn’t include more traditional marketing endeavors that are becoming more digital, like television advertising. And as technology continues to evolve and penetrate into traditional offline marketing channels, what is and is not digital marketing will get harder and harder to decide. On the flip side, it will matter less and less what exactly is and isn’t digital marketing once everything could be digital marketing.

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